Review: The journey to hell is quite familiar in Diablo IV

diablo iv, review

Our journey into the world of Sanctuary began nearly 125 hours ago, but the journey of Diablo IV itself perhaps began way back in 1997, with the release of the original Diablo and the evolution of the ARPG as a genre.

Owing much to its contemporaries in the genre such as Path of Exile and Lost Ark, this iteration of the long running franchise sees a number of differences over previous entries, one of the most important is the open world map, where players can select various locations to explore including the main story campaign, randomly generated dungeons, world events, or simply wander the lands, discovering new areas and sidequests, slaying hordes of enemies with the push of a button and gathering up piles of loot.

This fourth entry in the series also presents a substantial departure from its predecessors in several important ways. One of the most interesting is that this is the first entry where its title antagonist, Diablo, isn’t featured prominently in the main narrative (or at all) outside of a few small mentions. Also, the main campaign narrative differentiates itself from previous installments in the series by not limiting itself to a four act structure, instead opting for six acts (plus a short epilogue) to share its story.

The main campaign narrative deals with your newly created character quickly running into members of a mysterious cult and after a few important events, they are soon on the trail of Lilith, as she moves through the world of Sanctuary, leaving clues and corpses in her wake. If this all sounds a bit familiar, then you might recall Diablo 2, where the main story narrative consisted of your character following in the footsteps of the Dark Wanderer through four acts.  

diablo iv, review
The boys and girls are back in town!

As with previous entries in the series, you’ll have a number of classes to select from.  These will all be familiar to you if you’ve played any of the previous games. They are Barbarian, Rogue, Sorcerer, Druid and Necromancer. Each one has a plethora of unique abilities, skills, preferred weapons and class quests that enable various class-specific traits.

Known back in the good ol’ days of ’97 as the Warrior, the Barbarian has enjoyed being a headlining class in every Diablo game since the first. In Diablo IV, familiar skills like Frenzy and Whirlwind come early, and with the ability to carry an arsenal of weapons at once (two two-handers plus dual wielding two one-handers) their Expertise ability allows them to gain more proficiency with various weapons the more they use them, building attributes like critical hit chance while effortlessly slicing through packs of enemies.

The Rogue is another class who has its roots firmly planted in the original game.  Sneaking into the second entry in the series under the guise of the Assassin class, they took a little time off in Diablo 3, before being back in this fourth entry. Dual wielding twin daggers and carrying a bow, the Rogue’s unique talent lies in its specialization trait, allowing them to build combo points with attacks.

Known as “The General,” in Diablo 2, and managing to dig his way up from the grave by way of Diablo 3’s expansion pack, the Necromancer brings his unique command of skeletal minions, mages and giant golems to the world of Sanctuary. Arguably one of the more fan favorite classes in the franchise, this adventure sees a variety of new ways to utilize their minions.

diablo iv, review

Sometimes a Sorcerer, sometimes a Sorceress and sometimes a Wizard, the master of magic themselves returns for this journey into the world of Sanctuary, complete with a vast array of familiar and new abilities in three delicious flavors such as ice, fire, and lightning.

Finally, the Druid class makes a return after the brief hiatus from Diablo 3. With the ability to summon nature related abilities as well as earth related abilities and the power to shapeshift into other forms, the Druid is one of the more versatile classes in Diablo IV.

The level scaling in the game has been the subject of some controversy, as it tends towards the more extreme end of the spectrum. Enemies level up as you do, and the main critique is that with enemies matching your level, that you never become overpowered. This is semi-true as Diablo IV is split into four tiers, the first two which are accessible at the outset of the game, represent the casual and veteran levels, respectively.

These feature enemy ranges from 1 to 50, though some of the early zones max out at 40. So technically you “can” become overpowered, though once you level past 50 and move on to higher world tiers, you likely have little reason to return to those lower level areas, save for playing with lower level friends.

Skills are handled in a multi-part tree system that begins with basic skills, then moves on to core skills and also includes various class specific skills such as companion skills, defensive skills, key passives and ultimate skills. Putting a certain number of points at one level on the skill tree unlocks the next level. At level 50, you unlock the Paragon system which puts a flat “board” that you can put points into that will unlock passive stat bonus glyphs as well as unlock rare and legendary glyphs and empty glyph slots that you can fill with lootable class-specific glyphs.

diablo iv, review
They’ve got dragons. Check.

Multiplayer is both online and the less touted couch co-op option. With cross play enabled, you’ll see a variety of players roaming about, each one doing their own activities. When you accept an invite to a friend’s group, you’ll be whisked away to their game and their world, with all that they’ve done within it, discoveries and landmarks they’ve uncovered (or not uncovered).  

Visually, there are some great looking effects at play in many of the areas. There are moving shadows passing between ambient swinging torches in the depths of unexplored ruins, moonlight glistening on icy puddles and weather beaten lighthouses in the midst of raging thunderstorms. Blizzard’s cinematics team deserves a mention, as they’ve done some of their best work since Wrath of the Lich King here.

In the end, Diablo IV features a main story worth experiencing, a huge sprawling world to explore, tons of post-game activities to accomplish and a plethora of enemies to slice your way through and gobs and gobs of loot to collect.

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